The ultimate motivation is still unclear, but it appears as though Russia test-fired as many as four intercontinental ballistic missiles this weekend. First on Saturday, President Dmitri Medvedev watched the launch of a Sineva intercontinental missile from a submarine in the Arctic Barents Sea that hit a virtual target near the Equator in the Pacific Ocean. The Kremlin claimed this test set an all-time distance record. Then on Sunday, Medvedev oversaw the firing of a truck-mounted intercontinental Topol missile that landed somewhere in northern Russia’s taiga forests. Although no details were given, Medvedev also promised that two new weapons systems were being developed.

As Heritage senior fellow Peter Brookes notes, while Russia isn’t necessarily looking to become the Soviet Union again, it would like to exert decisive leverage on the international system, as the Kremlin did during the Cold War. To achieve these ends, Russia today maintains its position as the world’s second mightiest nuclear weapons state, with more than 600 strategic offensive weapons, buttressed by a significant military modernization program to revitalize the once-proud Russian military. Adding to security concerns, Russia is threatening to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated that class of ballistic missiles in a 1987 arms control treaty with the United States. Moscow is uncomfortable with the increase in the number of states around its periphery that now have intermediate-range ballistic missiles that did not have them when the treaty was signed over 20 years ago, such as India, Pakistan, Iran, China and North Korea.

The security challenge arising from the proliferation of ballistic missiles, and the dangerous payloads they might carry, including weapons of mass destruction like nuclear arms, is a threat that may be growing. A ballistic missile from a foreign enemy would take 33 minutes to reach the United States. With each passing day, this becomes a growing danger to America, yet our government has failed to build the missile defense systems capable of defending us against such attacks. Our enemies are attempting to stockpile arsenals that threaten our freedom and prosperity. North Korea and Iran are the most prominent, but this also includes Russia, China and other nations that have missiles capable of killing Americans in very large numbers and threatening our allies.

The time has come to revive the strategic missile defense system that America uniquely can develop, maintain and employ for its own defense and the peace-loving world’s security. To that end, Heritage has produced a documentary called “33 Minutes” highlighting the disastrous consequences of a nuclear explosion on American soil. We have also created a fully interactive 33 Minutes website that gives a history of missile defense, explains why it is needed now more than ever, and shows how missile defense works.

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